Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths - what can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
dagon
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Re: Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

Post by dagon » Sun Oct 20, 2013 12:53 am

Kim OHara wrote: Which brings to mind a rather different issue: are we "lay followers" or "monks" in classical terminology? Or (as I suspect many of us are) a new kind of follower with far more education and far more free time than most lay followers the Buddha taught, and correspondingly higher ambitions.
Engagement with social issues can be our dana, with all the good things that dana brings the giver. It is also a great practice arena for all four of the Brahmaviharas ... including the equanimity we need when our goals are unachievable :tongue:
This is an interesting topic in itself but also relevant to the discussion at hand. We need to define what our practice is to determine what the balance within that practice should be. I know that what comes across on the internet is often very different to what that person is like in real life. The impression that I get is that many of the members here with a longer term commitment to Buddhism seek the advancement of a monk without wanting to/or unable to undertake all the austerities that are part of a monks life. I for one am one of the people that I have just described (but I have fewer excuses than most).

For me engagement with the mundane life is a pivot around which my practice revolves. Study of the Dhamma has affected what, where, how and why I engage. At the same time the engagement provides me with unlimited scope to reflect on the Dhamma. If I was to disengage then it would be easy for me to have a pleasant practice without external disturbances – but what would happen when the external intrudes in to my life/my practice. Engagement along with changing my own life is what provides me with the faith (increasingly I prefer the word confidence) in what Buddha taught.

At the same time Dhamma has change what, where, how I engage through the discernment and appropriate reflections that the Dhamma has taught me. The precepts and the Brahmaviharas are the basis for my decisions whether to non-engage or engage in any thing. Implicit in any decision is the level of engagement and what resources (time, financial and mental) I decide to apply to that engagement.

The Dhamma has changed my engagements; my wish to have spiritual development in lifetime is also a factor. To me all of the questions can be summed up as "is this wholesome and a positive influence on my practice'. In practical application what I have found is that I choose to support people rather than causes (which was my tendency in the past). For someone like me who tended to hold strong views and easily loses my equanimity this is an adjustment that it was advisable to make.

I think that my current level of engagement with world and worldly matters in a positive and productive part of my practice. As I know there will be changes in my situation/practice so I continually adjust my engagements. Don’t dwell on the past or on the future, live in the present is the advice that I remind myself of in my choices.

Metta
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Kim OHara
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Re: Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

Post by Kim OHara » Sun Oct 20, 2013 1:03 am

:goodpost:

:namaste:
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Anagarika
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Re: Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

Post by Anagarika » Sun Oct 20, 2013 2:00 pm

Kim OHara wrote:Another is the "Bodhisattva ideal" they emphasise. It works for me as a way of framing my place in the world.

Which brings to mind a rather different issue: are we "lay followers" or "monks" in classical terminology? Or (as I suspect many of us are) a new kind of follower with far more education and far more free time than most lay followers the Buddha taught, and correspondingly higher ambitions.

Engagement with social issues can be our dana, with all the good things that dana brings the giver. It is also a great practice arena for all four of the Brahmaviharas ... including the equanimity we need when our goals are unachievable :tongue:

:namaste:
Kim
Great post, Kim.

I really like what Bhikkhu Bodhi has said about the need for Theravadins, and all Buddhists, to get off the cushion and engage in the social issues that affect the world. His Buddhist Global Relief is one expression of how a real difference can be made.

I remember being at a Wat and asking a young falang monk ( an intelligent and interesting fellow) if he had thoughts to later in life teach or become involved in community issues. He looked at me as if I suggested he join the circus. He told me "how can I think of the interests of others when I have an entire life of my own to work toward my own liberation?" Perhaps his response was the classic stereotyped Theravada view, that the sole mission is for the practice to lead to one's own release, and that by being released we inspire others and earn their dana. While that view may have been appropriate in 500 BCE, it seems to me that more is required of our practice in 2100 CE than working toward our own interests alone.

Whether this view takes one off the arahant path and into the bodhisattva path, for me, is irrelevant. The Buddha himself traveled extensively. My sense is that he and his monks were very much engaged in connecting with kings and untouchables, and ministering to them. One sutta describes the Buddha washing a man with dysentery, and another ministering to a woman that had lost her only child. This is engaged practice in my mind, and suggests that the spirit behind the practice is one of engagement. This engagement is not so much bodhisattva work, but simply a replication of the kind of engagement that the Buddha himself practiced.

"As the crested, blue-necked peacock, when flying, never matches the wild goose in speed: Even so the householder never keeps up with the monk, the sage secluded, doing jhana in the forest." Muni Sutta This is the life of the contemplative from the Sutta Nipata. Yet from the same book of Suttas comes the Karaniya Metta Sutta, which is a call to do far more than one's life alone in a cave.

The cave dwelling monk might reach Nibbana a bit faster than the engaged practitioner, but I feel the Metta Sutta is a call to do more than live the not-self focused contemplative life. Buddhist Global Relief volunteers might delay their eventual release, but what a good cause by which to spend this life.

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Re: Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

Post by Kim OHara » Sun Oct 20, 2013 9:37 pm

BuddhaSoup wrote:Great post, Kim.

I really like what Bhikkhu Bodhi has said about the need for Theravadins, and all Buddhists, to get off the cushion and engage in the social issues that affect the world. His Buddhist Global Relief is one expression of how a real difference can be made.

I remember being at a Wat and asking a young falang monk ( an intelligent and interesting fellow) if he had thoughts to later in life teach or become involved in community issues. He looked at me as if I suggested he join the circus. He told me "how can I think of the interests of others when I have an entire life of my own to work toward my own liberation?" Perhaps his response was the classic stereotyped Theravada view, that the sole mission is for the practice to lead to one's own release, and that by being released we inspire others and earn their dana. While that view may have been appropriate in 500 BCE, it seems to me that more is required of our practice in 2100 CE than working toward our own interests alone.

Whether this view takes one off the arahant path and into the bodhisattva path, for me, is irrelevant. ...
Thanks, BuddhaSoup :smile:
That monk's view was indeed the "classic stereotyped Theravada view", and I am disappointed that it still exists as a reality.
Further, I feel that if it is appropriate for anyone at all (and I do doubt that it is), it is appropriate only for monks. Lay people can't possibly spend the majority of their time chanting and meditating so if we want our practice to be more than an hour per day, we have to integrate it into mundane activities: mindfulness while we wash the dishes, compassion to the person next to us in the bus queue, etc, etc.

:namaste:
Kim

dagon
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Re: Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

Post by dagon » Mon Oct 21, 2013 1:26 am

Kim OHara wrote:
BuddhaSoup wrote:Great post, Kim.

I really like what Bhikkhu Bodhi has said about the need for Theravadins, and all Buddhists, to get off the cushion and engage in the social issues that affect the world. His Buddhist Global Relief is one expression of how a real difference can be made.

I remember being at a Wat and asking a young falang monk ( an intelligent and interesting fellow) if he had thoughts to later in life teach or become involved in community issues. He looked at me as if I suggested he join the circus. He told me "how can I think of the interests of others when I have an entire life of my own to work toward my own liberation?" Perhaps his response was the classic stereotyped Theravada view, that the sole mission is for the practice to lead to one's own release, and that by being released we inspire others and earn their dana. While that view may have been appropriate in 500 BCE, it seems to me that more is required of our practice in 2100 CE than working toward our own interests alone.

Whether this view takes one off the arahant path and into the bodhisattva path, for me, is irrelevant. ...
Thanks, BuddhaSoup :smile:
That monk's view was indeed the "classic stereotyped Theravada view", and I am disappointed that it still exists as a reality.
Further, I feel that if it is appropriate for anyone at all (and I do doubt that it is), it is appropriate only for monks. Lay people can't possibly spend the majority of their time chanting and meditating so if we want our practice to be more than an hour per day, we have to integrate it into mundane activities: mindfulness while we wash the dishes, compassion to the person next to us in the bus queue, etc, etc.

:namaste:
Kim
I believe that the view expressed by the monk is contrary to what the Buddha taught.

Throughout the teachings there is a constant theme of rights and the associated responsibilities: monks and laity, kings and subjects, husbands and wives. If you look at the instructions to the first of the monks it was to go out, dependent on the charity (dana) of the laity and teach the Dhamma to those that wished to hear it. Implicit in this is an exchange of dana for Dhamma. The Buddha was not teaching isolation but was teaching separation between the monks and laity. The rules for monks clearly forbid the development of independence in any economic form as seen by restrictions of the accumulation of wealth or economic activity that could give independence.

Not engaging in farming (the principle economic activity of the time) and daily going out on the rounds for food, not storing or preparing food all point in the same direction. The direction is a teaching of daily interaction between monks and laity. While all of this creates austerities The Buddha taught that austerities were appropriate where the assisted in spiritual development but that they did not have value in themselves, in fact austerities for the sake of being an austerities could be detrimental to the path.

There is universality about the 1st NT and for monks to isolate themselves and become indifferent to the suffering of all creatures could lead to a belief that they, rather than all suffered. At the same time there is clearly rules to ensure that the monks did not engage in activities that were detrimental to the path.

So most of us are not monks and will not take orders in this life time but that does not mean that we cannot reflect on what directions the Buddha-dhamma gives to monks to enhance our own development.

Giving dana brings rewards of that I have no doubt – but the rewards should not be sought as a motivation. To do so is like sitting down to meditate and say to ourselves to day I want to achieve XXX or YYY. I think that there are clear indications in the cannon that dana given spontaneously, personally and with discernment is the best way of giving dana. The question that I have (and continue to ask myself) is how is this going to occur if I do not engage with (but not in) world and worldly issues.

My understanding is that intention in giving dana is more important than the physical actions that are associated with it. If we are to consider engaging in worldly issues as a form of dana then we need to engage in the context of a Buddhist framework with the Dhamma providing the ethical and intellectual foundations. While it is useful to contemplate aspects of the Dhamma, it is pointless without them becoming part of everyday and all day life IMHO.

So the real question that we need to ask ourselves is how this is expressed in out lives and practice – what is the practical application. I have a high level of confidence in the science behind the climate change issue. For the most part I try and stay out of the public debate because all that will do is to encourage me to engage in wrong speech and other unskilful actions. I believe that talking the talk without walking the walk is hypocrisy which I consider to be a form of lying. One of the ways that I choose to act is to use public transport. It does make my carbon footprint smaller but it also helps to keep the public transport viable assisting others in the community who do not have the choices that I have. The advantages for my practice is that it engages me with people who I might not otherwise engage with providing opportunities for dana and gives me the opportunity to reflect on the teachings through the lives of others.

To illustrate the engagement with an example from yesterday. There is a young adult that gets on the bus who always will say hello and then ask what the person thinks of the Labour Party or do they like the leader of that party. Needless to say he manages to generate a negative mindset in many of his victims. When he started the conversation yesterday I said that I did not want to talk about politics - but how was he. I have known him casually for a number of years and that he had psychological and cognitively impairment from the use/abuse of drugs and alcohol. The conversation moved to this subject and instead of him being told to shut up by angry people they were listening. This included a number of young people who were of an age that realizing that the dangers were not a possibility, but rather, a reality that they were looking at. Instead of being faced with anger he received a level of compassion from those around. Instead of me being subject to pointless conversation I was able to reflect on the teaching during and after the conversation.

Metta
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cooran
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Re: Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

Post by cooran » Mon Oct 21, 2013 1:56 am

Hello all,

This previous thread may have some relevance:

Go Forth, O Bhikkhus!

Go forth, o bhikkhus, for the good of the many, for the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the benefit, for the good, for the happiness of gods and men. Let not two go by one way. Preach the doctrine that is beautiful in its beginning, beautiful in its middle, and beautiful in its ending. Declare the holy life in its purity, completely both in the spirit and the letter." ~ Mahavagga, Vinaya Pitaka.
http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=36&t=10678

with metta
Chris
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---Worry is the Interest, paid in advance, on a debt you may never owe---
---It's not what happens to you in life that is important ~ it's what you do with it ---

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Re: Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

Post by chownah » Mon Oct 21, 2013 4:21 am

I may be misunderstanding but are some people here saying that monks should be activists?
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Re: Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

Post by retrofuturist » Mon Oct 21, 2013 5:16 am

Greetings Chownah,

Not me... to steal something I wrote elsewhere...
When people in this topic speak in favour of monks making the realisation of the Buddha Dhamma their #1 priority, it is not through lack of concern, or lack of empathy for those who are suffering. It is not to diminish the role that humanitarian agencies play, nor the roles of volunteers who work hard and well to make the world a better place. It is an acknowledgement and recognition that the Sangha of the Buddha has an important role - in the context of dukkha and nirodha, and when you conceive it, you see it is more important than the role played by the chairman or CIO of any aid organisation in the world. That role is to master the Buddha's teachings, to embody the teachings, and to transmit the teachings to mankind.... so that whatever political / humanitarian / social / economic situation may (and will) be ebbing and flowing at any point in time, mankind (or those who lend their ears to listen) will have the tools to cope with whatever the world throws at it.
AN 10.69 wrote:“Then the Blessed One, emerging from his seclusion in the late afternoon, went to the meeting hall and, on arrival, sat down on a seat made ready. As he was sitting there, he addressed the monks: “For what topic of conversation are you gathered together here? In the midst of what topic of conversation have you been interrupted?”

“Just now, lord, after the meal, on returning from our alms round, we gathered at the meeting hall and got engaged in many kinds of bestial topics of conversation: conversation about kings, robbers, & ministers of state; armies, alarms, & battles; food & drink; clothing, furniture, garlands, & scents; relatives; vehicles; villages, towns, cities, the countryside; women & heroes; the gossip of the street & the well; tales of the dead; tales of diversity, the creation of the world & of the sea; talk of whether things exist or not.”

“It isn’t right, monks, that sons of good families, on having gone forth out of faith from home to the homeless life, should get engaged in such topics of conversation, i.e., conversation about kings, robbers, & ministers of state… talk of whether things exist or not.

“There are these ten topics of [proper] conversation. Which ten? Talk on modesty, contentment, seclusion, non-entanglement, arousing persistence, virtue, concentration, discernment, release, and the knowledge & vision of release. These are the ten topics of conversation. If you were to engage repeatedly in these ten topics of conversation, you would outshine even the sun & moon, so mighty, so powerful — to say nothing of the wanderers of other sects.”
Metta,
Retro. :)
"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"One discerns wrong view as wrong view, and right view as right view. This is one's right view." (MN 117)

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Re: Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

Post by Kim OHara » Mon Oct 21, 2013 7:13 am

chownah wrote:I may be misunderstanding but are some people here saying that monks should be activists?
chownah
Not me, although I would hope that monks showed at least as much compassion towards neighbours in distress as sincere lay followers do.

:namaste:
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Re: Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

Post by Ben » Mon Oct 21, 2013 7:47 am

Kim OHara wrote:
chownah wrote:I may be misunderstanding but are some people here saying that monks should be activists?
chownah
Not me, although I would hope that monks showed at least as much compassion towards neighbours in distress as sincere lay followers do.

:namaste:
Kim
Some do, Kim.
“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

Compassionate Hands Foundation (Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • Buddhist Global ReliefUNHCR

e: ben.dhammawheel@gmail.com..

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Kim OHara
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Re: Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

Post by Kim OHara » Mon Oct 21, 2013 11:59 am

Ben wrote:
Kim OHara wrote:
chownah wrote:I may be misunderstanding but are some people here saying that monks should be activists?
chownah
Not me, although I would hope that monks showed at least as much compassion towards neighbours in distress as sincere lay followers do.

:namaste:
Kim
Some do, Kim.
I know, Ben, and I hope that they are in the great majority. I was merely trying to say that I wasn't "saying that monks should be activists" but neither would I consider that the opposite extreme - retreat, isolation, complete disengagement from the world - could be good practice.

:namaste:
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Re: Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

Post by SDC » Tue Oct 22, 2013 12:10 am

BuddhaSoup wrote:The cave dwelling monk might reach Nibbana a bit faster than the engaged practitioner, but I feel the Metta Sutta is a call to do more than live the not-self focused contemplative life. Buddhist Global Relief volunteers might delay their eventual release, but what a good cause by which to spend this life.
With all do respect, BuddhaSoup, I sense a level of disdain for nibbana in your post. I'm curious about this as it is the part of the reason I started this thread.

How can the idea of selfishness have any place when discussing those that are actually moving towards awakening?

Is it possible that it is one's current level of self-centered thinking that makes it difficult to imagine pursuing nibbana? Since the self is still a major aspect of any imaginings of future experience?

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Re: Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

Post by Anagarika » Tue Oct 22, 2013 12:49 am

SDC wrote:
BuddhaSoup wrote:The cave dwelling monk might reach Nibbana a bit faster than the engaged practitioner, but I feel the Metta Sutta is a call to do more than live the not-self focused contemplative life. Buddhist Global Relief volunteers might delay their eventual release, but what a good cause by which to spend this life.
With all do respect, BuddhaSoup, I sense a level of disdain for nibbana in your post. I'm curious about this as it is the part of the reason I started this thread.

How can the idea of selfishness have any place when discussing those that are actually moving towards awakening?

Is it possible that it is one's current level of self-centered thinking that makes it difficult to imagine pursuing nibbana? Since the self is still a major aspect of any imaginings of future experience?
And with all due respect, I have no disdain at all for the path toward release and awakening. I'm really just echoing Bhikkhu Bodhi's call for a more engaged Theravada. I admire his contemplative life, his history in Asia as a renunciate monk, and his work as an exemplary translator and scholar of Pali. I have his books translating the Suttas. I suppose if he can find the time to form Buddhist Global Relief, start a movement toward global food redistribution programs and anti-poverty programs around the world, I can get off my butt now and then and do something beyond meditation and study that benefits those in need in my community.

Some practitioners are 'self'-focused, and I don't mean that in a pejorative sense. I just feel there are many ways to express the Buddhadhamma, and Bhikkhu Bodhi has set a terrific example of engaged practice.

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Re: Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

Post by chownah » Tue Oct 22, 2013 2:45 am

BuddhaSoup,
Seems to me that to be a renunciate monk would rule out or at least minimilize social engagement. Isn't renunciation the giving up of engagement in worldly matters?
chownah

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Anagarika
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Re: Reasonable involvement in "World Issues"

Post by Anagarika » Tue Oct 22, 2013 2:54 am

chownah wrote:BuddhaSoup,
Seems to me that to be a renunciate monk would rule out or at least minimilize social engagement. Isn't renunciation the giving up of engagement in worldly matters?
chownah
I mentioned him in the context of his life in Sri Lanka. But, please see this Bhikkhu Bodhi article which I feel illuminates the issue of renunciation v. compassion:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... ay_08.html

"In our attempt to follow the Dhamma, one or the other of these twin cardinal virtues will have to be given prominence, depending on our temperament and circumstances. However, for monk and householder alike, success in developing the path requires that both receive due attention and that deficiencies in either gradually be remedied. Over time we will find that the two, though tending in different directions, eventually are mutually reinforcing. Compassion impels us toward greater renunciation, as we see how our own greed and attachment make us a danger to others. And renunciation impels us toward greater compassion, since the relinquishing of craving enables us to exchange the narrow perspectives of the ego for the wider perspectives of a mind of boundless sympathy. Held together in this mutually strengthening tension, renunciation and compassion contribute to the wholesome balance of the Buddhist path and to the completeness of its final fruit."

I am glad for the questions above, which caused me to research a bit into this issue. The article above hits the nail on the head.

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